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The most beautiful, stunning, and sexy soccer jersey in the history of the world.

Photo: Paul Rudderow

The Philadelphia Union 2021 secondary kit is the most beautiful soccer jersey ever designed. 

Or at least that’s what anyone who’s had the chance to look at it has said. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people, and odds are, you aren’t either. If you are one of those lucky enough to be involved, I’d just like you to know that I’m incredibly jealous of you, and I do hold a grudge, and if the process isn’t complete yet, you definitely need to make sure they’re using signal blue. The color is criminally underutilized, and the homage to the supporters is a fantastic motif for an away jersey, but I digress

If you’re unfamiliar with what exactly I’m rambling about, let me get you up to speed. 

In 2019, the Philadelphia Union announced the “2021 Union Kit Design Project”. In short, select fans, media, and content creators were able to get a behind the scenes look at the design process for the 2021 away jersey and play some role in creating the design. I’d assume this came in the way of voicing opinions and making suggestions. Yet again, I have not had the pleasure of being at one of these meetings, so this is just speculation. Since the initial meeting more than a year ago, the general consensus has been that the 2021 Union jersey will be a blessing from the gods. Everyone who gazes upon it will be brought to tears, exclaiming the genius of the designers. Exciting, right?

So I know what all of you want to know, what does it look like? My response: Who’s to say. Despite whispers of how the jersey will redefine American soccer and launch Philadelphia into an age of glory in which we’re the first MLS team ever invited to the UEFA Champions League after our unprecedented 10 consecutive supporter shield and MLS Cup doubles, nothing is known about the shirt to those outside of the chosen few. That being said, a bit more than a year ago, an image went around of a wall full of various Philadelphia Union jersey mockups, presumably from the design project. In the photo of roughly 100 different mockups, a few familiar designs make an appearance. Among those are slight variants of every jersey from 2017 onward. This includes the 2020 home shirt, a jersey that at the time, hadn’t been revealed. 

Variations include different colored sponsor logos, combos of the current away shirts radial design, and the 2017-2019 shirts navy sleeves, different sized and colored snakes from the 2020 home shirt… you get the idea. There were also a plethora of shirts that weren’t at all familiar. Those designs ranged anywhere from “Borat” to “West Brom” to “Re-colored Jamaican bobsled uniform”, all of which I would wear with pride, one of which I would wear and continuously say “feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, get on up, it’s dooping time!”. While that may be fun, and speculating may be equally fun, at the end of the day, there’s simply too many different shirts, and not enough info to make an educated guess at what next year’s final product may look like. What we do know though, is that MLS has an unfortunate recent history of making boring away jerseys.

While many MLS fans blame “boring” away kits on the clubs themselves, it’s a bit more complicated than that. About two years before a shirt launch, clubs submit a design proposal to Adidas. The details of these vary, but the overall purpose is to show the manufacturer what the team wants. They include keywords, examples of past shirts they like, colors, and mood boards. Some clubs go as far as to include full mockups from their design staff, but this is typically only done by larger clubs with heavily established branding. 

Smaller clubs with less established brands can often have their designs much more influenced by Adidas. Their design team is often younger, with less experience, and because of that, they’re trusted less by both their clubs’ higher-ups and Adidas. This can result in Adidas taking almost full control of a shirt’s design, and an uninspired look largely devoid of symbolism a true local fan of a club would identify with. Using an example first reported by The Athletic; DC United had their design staff propose several unique designs. One being an objectively sharp kit inspired by the cherry trees of DC, all of which were rejected by club higher-ups due to concerns about how such a bold design would be received by the public. At the end of the day, too much control is being given to club leaders who don’t have a close connection to what supporters care about, or what represents the city. Because of this, Adidas designers with no link to the club are too often left to come up with a majority of the design, and often opt for a “clean” safe option. While the plain white shirts most MLS teams wear aren’t exciting, it would be hard to argue that they’re aggressively bad. 

So, with club leaders often interfering with bold, promising shirt designs, in favor of less risky, safe designs, where does this leave the Union? Actually, in a pretty good spot. With so much attention being paid to the 2021 jersey, and the Union making such a conscious effort to include fan input, it’s highly likely that whatever the design team comes up with will be backed heavily by the club leaders and pitched to Adidas. While Adidas may have a bit of tweaking to do to fit the kit to whatever the 2021 template is, odds are it’ll be reasonably close to the team’s design proposal. Let’s just hope it’s not the Borat banana hammock.

What would your ideal Union jersey look like?

6 Comments

  1. I always felt that the issue with the Union is the lack of harmony between the Navy, Signal Blue and Gold. This can be easily fixed by making the Navy a tint of the Signal Blue creating more balance. Secondly, gold is one of the hardest colors to match digitally and tactically (See current jersey numbers and the Union logo used on jersey as opposed to Social Media.)

    Having a said all of that, I am hoping this kit is as good as the rumors suggest! Fingers crossed for something bold.

  2. Thomas, great article and insights. I also remain hopeful that the Union take more control of the 2021 jersey, vice Adidas offering something safe and bland. I love that the club has solicited genuine input from the supporters.

  3. OneManWolfpack says:

    I have not bought a jersey since 2010 original, no Bimbo sponsorship yet, blue, long-sleeved. Nothing has made me want to get another one. Please, PLEASE make this as awesome as it appears to be. I want a new one and I want it to be the best.

  4. Rashaad Jorden says:

    I have a crazy idea for a Union jersey. Hear me out…

    Have any of you seen the intro for “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?” (It’s my favorite TV show, by the way). My ideal Union jersey (shirt, shorts, and socks) would be based on the outfit Will Smith wears in the intro to the “Fresh Prince.” More so, the portion of the intro when he’s in Bel Air: Yellow shirt, blue shorts, and yellow socks. Regarding the shorts, I love the shade of blue. If you look closely at the the shirt, there are barely visible horizontal stripes that would look good on a soccer uniform.

    My ideal Union jersey would actually be the alternate strip. The Fresh Prince is from Philadelphia, so that would be a touch of popular culture in a Union jersey.

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